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Posts Tagged ‘Sorana Cirstea’

PostHeaderIcon Dominika/Sorana & Jamie/Aga: My Picks For the Stanford Final

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The Bank of the Wet semifinals are set, and it promises to be a good day of tennis in spite of the withdrawals and upsets. Match picks are always tricky, but I’ll toss my hat into the ring anyway for these two. Let’s take a closer look at these match-ups to see why I’m looking at a Sorana-Jamie final.

Dominika Cibulkova [4] v Sorana Cirstea

H2H: Dominika leads 2-1

There’s a bit of déjà vu in this match owing to the fact that their last meeting was at last year’s Bank of the West in the quarterfinals. That match, won by Cirstea 6-7(7) 6-2 6-0, was a 3-set battle that lasted almost 2.5 hours.

Dominika started the match strong then hit the proverbial wall after winning the first set tiebreaker. It’s surprising that a player with such tremendous fight was bageled in the third set (after winning the first). But in many ways it speaks volumes about Sorana, and her ability to stay focused on the win after the loss of a tight set.

In a match between two great fighters with strong, the winner will most likely be decided by the ability to hold serve, or break your opponent’s serve.  This bodes well for Sorana, who served at 52%, had 15 aces (against 3 double faults), won 77% of her first serve points, and 66% of her second serve points.

By contrast, the barely 5′ 3″ Dominika (yes, her height makes a difference) served at 39%, had 1 ace (against 5 double faults), won only 65% of her first serves, and 44% of her second serves. Neither served “well”, but the smaller Dominika struggled considerably more to make an impact with her serve, and was still broken 6 times in spite of her best efforts.

Not much has changed in either of their games to stop a similar outcome in their semifinal. Dominika will again fight hard, but will likely lose another 3-setter. Hopefully, this time without a third set bagel!

Sorana in three sets.

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Agnieszka Radwanska [1] v Jamie Hampton

H2H: Aga leads 4-1

These two have met twice in 2013, and split wins with Aga winning on a hard court in Auckland 7-6(4) 7-6(3), and Jamie winning on the grass of Eastbourne 7-6(2) 6-2. Even if you discount Jamie’s victory on grass, this semifinal offers her an excellent chance to reach her first Stanford final. But execution will be the key to her victory.

The stats from Auckland show that Jamie didn’t serve quite as well as Aga, yet still managed to have a chance in the tiebreakers. So if she can bump up her first serve percentage, and also bump up her percentage of points won on first serve, that could make a huge difference in holding serve versus the 3 breaks of serve she faced in that match.

Jamie will also need to keep her unforced error count low. Her unforced error count against Nicole Gibbs defense was off the charts, and that definitely won’t cut it against a relatively error-free player like Aga.

Pace of shot won’t be a factor in this match, because Aga is one of the best at using an opponent’s pace to her own advantage. More important than pace, however, will be Jamie’s ability to stay patient in rallies. That will allow her to stay in points long enough to hit as many shots as needed to wear down Aga and win the point.

Aga was on court a long time in her quarterfinal with Varvara Lepchenko, but that shouldn’t matter. She’s used to playing long matches on successive days. The bigger issue for Aga is whether she can rediscover a sense of comfort on the stadium court that was absent against Varvara. If she struggles for her range against a confident Jamie, as she did against Varvara, she’ll get punished.

So who’s going to come out on top? Well, anything can happen in a tournament that’s been as wacky as this one. But I’ll take my chances with the increasingly confident power game of Hampton over the slightly unsettled game of Radwanska.

Jamie for the win (two or three)

PostHeaderIcon Bank of the West Round-Up for Wednesday (7/24)

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Radwanska Wins the “Battle of Crafty” Against Schiavone at Stanford

In an entertaining match that lived up to its’ billing as a battle between two of the craftiest players on the WTA tour, Agnieszka Radwanska defeated Francesca Schiavone 6-4, 6-3 in the featured night match at the Bank of the West Classic.

Francesca came into the match with a slight 4-3 lead in their career head-to-head, but Aga was the one coming into the match with the momentum, having won their last three meetings. After tonight’s straight-set win, make that four!

The conditions on the stadium court were perfect. As the match began, both players took their time in the first few rallies to find the range on their shots while also probing for any signs of weakness in their opponent. Aga struck pay dirt first: with excellent defense, solid net play, and aggressive hitting on her serve and forehand.

It was a different story on the other side of the net for Francesca. Against Mallory Burdette, she’d managed to quickly find the depth on her strokes to keep her Mallory pinned back on the baseline. On this night against Aga, Francesca struggled to keep the ball on the court.

Aga-presser

With unforced errors flying from both wings of Francesca’s racquet, Aga jumped out to a 5-1 lead in a “battle” that was starting to look more like a rout! But with her back up against the wall (and Aga serving for the set at 40-15), Francesca finally found her range and began hitting out with a vengeance. She fought back to break Aga’s serve in that game, and secured a second break to bring the match back on serve at 4-5.

Unfortunately for Francesca, her comeback ended with a double fault on set point. To her credit, she continued to battle hard in the second set, but was unable to maintain the high level of play that had helped her mount a comeback in the first.

The second set offered more of the same, with Aga clearly up to the task on Francesca’s sliced shots. And in a welcome contrast to the first set, Aga successfully served out the second to book her spot in Friday’s quarterfinals.

This match may not have gone the distance, as many had hoped, but it did feature some fine shot-making from both women: including deft drop shots, beautifully-placed lobs, and a reflex backhand crosscourt slice drop shot from Aga that was reminiscent of a similar reflex shot that she hit in Miami.

When asked about the shot afterward, even Aga admitted thinking, “Oh my God, it’s in again!” Now that she’s gotten the first match under her belt and is more familiar with the conditions at Taube, Aga’s going to be very tough to beat for the Stanford title.

Varvara Lepchenko

Day Session Match Results

In the earlier matches on the stadium court, Varvara Lepchenko defeated Tamira Paszek 6-4 6-4; and Sorana Cirstea defeated Coco Vandeweghe 6-3 6-3.

Lepchenko versus Paszek, the first featured match, was a battle of players who’ve both struggled to make their mark in 2013. This was Paszek’s third appearance in a second round match this season, and the lack of confidence in her ground game was apparent.

Varvara’s had her own struggles as well (including coaching issues with the USTA), but still managed to close out this match on her fifth match point. Next up for Varvara is a quarterfinal date with Radwanska.

Coco, last year’s losing finalist to Serena Williams, never got her game going in her match against Sorana Cirstea. With a game that’s based heavily around her big serve and ground strokes, her performance against Sorana was inadequate, with 8 double faults and a 47% first serve percentage. She struggled to hold serve and was broken four times. Coco’s groundstrokes also let her down as she sprayed shots all over the court.

For her part, Sorana played solid tennis for the win. This will be her second trip to the Bank of the West quarterfinals. Her opponent will be Olga Govortsova.

PostHeaderIcon Bank of the West Preview/Picks for Wednesday 7/24/13

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Tamira Paszek v Varvara Lepchenko [6]

H2H: Tied at 2-All

The most relevant matches in their head-to-head are the last two matches played on carpet (’11) and outdoor hard (’12). Tamira won the first in a 3-set match that lasted 3 hours. Varvara won the second in a 3-set match that last nearly 3 hours. If the pattern holds true, get set for another long one!

2013’s been a tough year for both players. Varvara’s struggled to maintain the level she achieved in ’12, while Tamira’s struggled to even get past the first round at any tournament through most of ’13. The lack of confidence might show in the quality of shot-making, but their prior history should provide for a fairly competitive match. I’ll stick my neck out on this one for Varvara in three sets.

Sorana Cirstea v [Q] Coco Vandeweghe

H2H: Tied at 1-All

Coco won the first time they played in ’11 in a 3-set match lasting almost 2.5 hours. Their next meeting at this year’s Australian Open was pretty much a whitewash for Sorana in straight sets. Given the status of both in their respective seasons, it’s unclear whether this match will look like either of those previous two.

Sorana’s had a tough year, making it past the R16 at only one hard court tournament. Though she always has potential to be dangerous, her 19-17 record coming into Stanford can’t provide her with an excess of confidence.

Coco’s status as a qualifier pretty much says it all, since she’s spent much of the season qualifying for main draws in WTA events. But even though she’s a qualifier, she’s also one of last year’s finalists: which probably helped immensely in coming through the qualifying rounds. She’s on comfortable ground, and on a roll in terms of match wins.

I’ll give the edge to Coco in this one. If her shots are landing cleanly, it goes two sets. If she’s making a ton of unforced errors, it goes three.

Francesca Schiavone

Agnieszka Radwanska [1] v Francesca Schiavone (Featured Match)

H2H: Francesca leads 4-3

This match, which could easily be titled “I Can Be Craftier than You”, features two of the best thinkers/strategists on the pro tour, and has the potential to be one of the most entertaining of the week.

Aga doesn’t have the power of Serena or Maria, but reads the ball well and defends with the best of them. She has an uncanny ability to use her opponent’s power to her own advantage, which helped her to overcome Maria in the ’12 Sony Open final, and take Serena to three sets in the ’12 Wimbledon final.

I’m not sure that skill will help Aga against Francesca, a player who specializes in spin over power. She can hit with an extreme amount of spin from both her forehand and single-handed backhand wings. And her slice is one of the most formidable on tour. It’s no surprise that Francesca’s biggest title came on clay at the ’10 French Open.

Francesca needs a fair amount of racquet prep for her shots, especially her forehand.  This can get her into trouble on faster hard courts with the big hitters.  Aga’s shots don’t have the same pace, so Francesca’s 4-1 record on hard courts show’s that she’s not nearly as troubled by Aga’s game on this surface.

The problem for Francesca in this match-up is that she’s on the backside of her career, while Aga is on the upside of hers.  Aga’s game has improved, and dramatically so since ’10. Francesca’s game has plateaued and declined since her peak moments in Paris. It’s no coincidence that Aga has won their last three matches: one each on hard court, clay, and grass.

Though it’s been two years since they last played, I don’t see Francesca overcoming this new and improved Aga; and I’m not talking about the blonde hair. Aga has pushed herself to be more aggressive to win points outright instead of waiting for errors. Francesca will throw the kitchen sink at her, but it won’t be enough to stop Aga from winning in two sets.

PostHeaderIcon Rafa, Roger, and the Upset Contagion

Steve Darcis - Chris Raphael/AELTC

Steve Darcis – Chris Raphael/AELTC

As I reflect upon the first two rounds of Wimbledon action, I’m reminded of the movie “Contagion”. Replace the deadly virus with an upset virus, and Patient Zero Gwyneth Paltrow with Patient Zero Rafa Nadal, and that’s pretty describes the first four days of this year’s fortnight.

It started with Rafa and his straight-sets upset at the hands of Steve Darcis. This was followed by upsets of Stan Wawrinka and Fabio Fognini. The men weren’t the only ones to fall victim to this bug, as we found out when Sara Errani also succumbed in Day One action.

The next day got worse with Maria Kirilenko, Sam Querrey, Gilles Simon, Nadia Petrova, and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova all becoming victims of the upset bug.

Sergiy Stakhovsky - Matthias Hangst/AELTC

Sergiy Stakhovsky – Matthias Hangst/AELTC

By the end of Day Four, the situation had spiraled out of control with the collective defeats of the aforementioned along with Ana Ivanovic, Roger Federer, Julien Benneteau, Jelena Jankovic, Caroline Wozniacki, Maria Sharapova, Sorana Cirstea, Shuai Peng, Milos Raonic, and Mona Barthel.

The progression of the virus slowed dramatically by Day Five, but still managed to bring down Nicolas Almagro, Angelique Kerber, and Grigor Dimitrov. The totality of the carnage was a horror-show by any stretch of the imagination!

Upsets happen all the time in tennis, but this particular epidemic was unprecedented!  By the third round, only 10 players remained of the twenty combined top ten seeds for both the men and the women. This is the worst performance by top 10 seeds at a Slam in the Open era.

It’s as if all of these upsets actually did start as the result of a contagion, like in the movie. Perhaps Rafa came back from his match, accidentally coughed on a water fountain in the player’s lounge that Stan and Sara drank from, and started the spread in that manner.

Though an “upset contagion” would make for good drama, there’s really a simpler explanation at work; and it does, in fact, start with Rafa.

When Steve Darcis beat Rafa (and Monica Puig beat Sara), players who previously never gave themselves a shot in these types of matches began to have hope; and hope is a powerful thing.  If Darcis could beat a two-time Wimbledon champion and the player with the best record of the year in straight sets, why couldn’t they?

Victoria Azarenka - Steven Wake/AELTC

Victoria Azarenka – Steven Wake/AELTC

Add in a few well-placed injury tumbles by some other top players that further opened the draws, and a real belief developed (in the lower-ranked players) that anyone could be beaten in this tournament in a given match.

“Hope” and “Belief” became the contagion. Even the belief was completely unfounded, that didn’t seem to matter. An upset could still happen. Case in point: No. 116 Sergiy Stakhovsky defeating No. 3 (and 7-time champion) Roger Federer!

Like all outbreaks, this one subsided fairly quickly. But the damage had already been done. Also not surprisingly, many of the players who’d gained belief in order to pull off their initial upsets lost it by the next round, and lost. The natural order began to reassert itself, albeit with severely-thinned ranks at the top.

This probably won’t happen again for quite some time. Historic upheavals in a Grand Slam draw are, by their very nature, not common. But it will be interesting to see if these circumstances present themselves again in the next few Slams.  If it does, then it won’t be merely the upheaval caused by an upset outbreak.

It could very well mean the imminent changing of the guard.

PostHeaderIcon 2013 BNP Paribas Open – Women’s Draw Wide Open?

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Photo courtesy of Malcolm Taam

Again, please accept my apologies on these late and rushed picks.  But I gotta get them out before the tournament’s over! 😉

In the absence of the WTA’s best player, this title could go to a few different women.  Vika Azarenka, last year’s champion, is the top choice, followed closely by Maria Sharapova.  But there are a few others who could sneak in for a shot too.  So without further ado, here are my picks for the women’s draw.  Some of them are a little on the “wish list” side of reality, but that’s okay.  It keeps things interesting for both me and you.

Top Quarter – Vika

Vika looks like a pretty sure bet for the top part of this quarter, but I’m going to stick my neck out and go with Laura Robson as a surprise quarterfinalist on the bottom. Nadia Petrova and Julia Goerges are contenders, but let’s give the British girl a chance for her breakthrough moment.  Caroline Wozniacki is an outside shot at best, given her up and down play as of late: including a loss to a player outside of the top 100. It would be great to see Sloane Stephens make a run for revenge against the top seed, but her path is complicated with Urszula Radwanska and Bethanie Mattek-Sands between her and that quarterfinal spot.

Second Quarter – Angie

Interesting match-ups in this quarter include Ana Ivanovic v Mona Barthel, and young American Madison Keys v Sam Stosur.  But in the end, I’m going with Angelique Kerber against Paris winner Barthel in the quarters, after Angie gets by Heather Watson and Yanina Wickmayer.  BTW, I’m also going with Keys over Stosur given Madison’s home court advantage, and Sam’s fairly dismal record in the desert. (NOTE: I tend to usually never root against players, but am hoping for quick exits with respect to Bojana Jovanovski and Michelle Larcher de Brito.  It’s bad enough that we have to listen to Vika and Maria without adding these two into the “ridiculous noise” mix!)

Third Quarter – Aga

I would love to give Petra Kvitova the nod in this quarter, but I can’t.  Whenever she comes to North America we end up hearing about her allergies over her results.  This time won’t be any different.  I’m looking at Dominika Cibulkova to come through the top part of this quarter with solid semifinal favorite Aga Radwanska to easily slice through the bottom roster of contenders, including Sorana Cirstea and Maria Kirilenko.

Bottom Quarter – Which Russian?

Maria Sharapova or a resurgent Svetlana Kuznetsova?  That is the question posed by the bottom quarter. Maria has a fairly straightforward path to the quarterfinals, even with a potential round of 16 match against Roberta Vinci.  The same holds true for Svetlana, even with an upcoming match against drama queen extraordinaire, Jelena Jankovic, and mighty mite Sara Errani.  If Svetlana keeps her head together and plays the type of tennis that she’s been playing since her return from knee surgery, she’s got as good a chance as anyone.

Quarterfinals:

Victoria Azarenka v Laura Robson

Angelique Kerber v Mona Barthel

Dominika Cibulkova v Aga Radwanska

Svetlana Kuznetsova v Maria Sharapova

Semifinals:

Victoria Azarenka v Angelique Kerber

Aga Radwanska v Svetlana Kuznetsova

Final:

Victoria Azarenka v Aga Radwanska

Winner – Victoria Azarenka

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